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If Beale Street Could Talk Paperback – October 10, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the best books Baldwin has ever written–perhaps the best of all." –The Philadelphia Inquirer“A moving, painful story, so vividly human and so obviously based on reality that it strikes us as timeless.”–Joyce Carol Oates"If Van Gogh was our nineteenth-century artist-saint, James Baldwin is our twentiethth-century one." –Michael Ondaatje"Striking and particularly haunting. . . . A beauty, especially in its rendering of youthful passion." –Cosmopolitan"A major work of black American fiction...  His best novel yet, even Baldwin's most devoted readers are due to be stunned by it."–The New Republic"Emotional dynamite...  a powerful assault upon the cynicism that seems today to drain our determination to confront deep social problems."–Library Journal"A moving, painful story, so vividly human and so obviously based on reality that it strikes us as timeless." –The New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher

Like the blues -- sweet, sad and full of truth -- this masterly work of fiction rocks us with powerful emotions. In it are anger and pain, but above all, love -- affirmative love of a woman for her man, the sustaining love of a black family. Fonny, a talented young artist, finds himself unjustly arrested and locked in New York's infamous tombs. But his girlfriend, Tish, is determined to free him, and to have his baby, in this starkly realisitic tale... a powerful endictment of American concepts of justice and punishment in our time. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307275930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307275936
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America's foremost writers. His essays, such as "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-twentieth-century America. A Harlem, New York, native, he primarily made his home in the south of France.

His novels include Giovanni's Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in much savage criticism from the black community. Going to Meet the Man (1965) and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968) provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have been on a quest to read James Baldwin's book-reread those I read in the 70s and search out those I have missed. And what a fruitful treasure hunt it has been. The man was prolific and was a bonafide genius. I have always listed him as among my favorite authors but in the new millennium I have gained a new appreciation. I will venture to say he is my favorite writer of all time.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a lesson in the injustices of America that existed in the 70s In New York and is still indicative of that great city today. Trish and Fonny are young lovers who believe in the American dream of marriage and family. Best friends since they were young children, they are aware of the racism that surrounds them as being black in America but nevertheless believe they have what it takes to make it, their love.

That is until the day Fonny is arrested and thrown in jail for rape. What follows is a horror that tears at the reader's soul as we go through the pain and frustration with these characters of trying to prove a young black male's innocence, a near impossibility at this time period in our history. Trish is pregnant and working at a dead-end job but has the full support of her Renaissance family. Fonny, on the other hand, only has the support of his wearied father, who once owned a neighborhood business and now is subject to working at a job where he is made to feel less than a man. His wife is self-righteous and unapproachable while his grown daughters are frustrated "old maids" who with their imagined bourgeois airs have tried and convicted their brother.

This story is a testament to the human spirit, of how a people prevail against all odds, telling a story that is so familiar to the Blues the title of the book symbolizes. Another James Baldwin classic, another American classic, not to be missed.

Dera Williams
APOOO BookClub
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Format: Paperback
It is always a great disappointment and a tremendous joy to read Baldwin. The author's ability to bring the experiences of African American life and the circumstances under which those lives are lived here in America is a joyful, although difficult, reading experience. The disappointment comes in realizing that although Baldwin's canon of work spanned the late 1960's through 1970's, many of the conditions that he writes about so candidly still exist in 2003. The novel is, at its core, a beautiful love story. Not the kind where man meets woman, they fall in love, marry, have children and move into their lovely suburban home adorned with white picket fence and a two car garage. For that American dream was rarely the experience of many African Americans during the period in which the novel is set. In this depiction of the American dream, Tish and Fonny meet as children, grow up and in love, all the while aspiring to create a life together. Their hopes for the future are destroyed when Fonny is jailed for a rape he did not commit.
With classic Baldwin insight, the novel reveals how individual, systematic and internalized racial hatred ruined the lives of two lovers and their families. From the white cop that set Fonny up, to the court system that held him down (although he had an alibi) to the family that turned their backs on him, all contributed to his destruction. When Baldwin isn't rendering a scathing critique of America's racial injustices, he's rebuking the unquestioning manner that many African American's cling to religion in hopes of obtaining freedom here on earth.
Although at times it is difficult to distinguish the characters' voice from the author's, the novel truthfully depicts a fictional account of the realities of America's racism.
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Format: Paperback
Langston Hughes wrote, "Folks, I'm telling you/Living is hard/Birthing is mean/So get yourselves/a little loving/in between." Hughes's poem kind of captures If Beale Street Could Talk.
The novel is told by Tish, a nineteen-year-old African American in Harlem in the 1970's. She is deeply in love with Fonny and is pregnant by him, but just about everything has gone wrong for the couple. Fonny is in jail because he has been falsely accussed of rape because he is black. Fonny, Tish, and Tish's family (plus Fonny's father) all love each other, and the family rallies behind Fonny to get him free. They must steal to raise money and even go on a trip to Puerto Rico to confront the woman accussing Fonny.
The characterizations in the novel are marvelous, and the storytelling is superb. Baldwin tells If Beale Street Could Talk in the most beautiful prose. It is almost musical. I also love his many allusions to music. If Beale Street Could Talk is an outstanding novel which can stand with almost any of the twentieth century. It can really be an important novel for teaching young adults about racism and the power of love between a family. If Beale Street Could Talk is a true classic.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I think it sure would help our world if more people would read James Baldwin. He tells stories about parts of life (real life) and places in this world (in our country) that existed a long, long time without a reporter's voice. He wrote this book in the 1970's but it is still pertinent today. His talent is to turn into literature a reality that we might well prefer to hide from. His talent is not to be underestimated. He was a trained preacher and his cadence and language use are beautiful and compelling. There is hard well-honed anger fueling this story -- you can taste it as you read. But it is equally love that spurs Baldwin: the immense and enduring love he sees that holds people together in the corners where he's throwing his light for us to see. And, maybe more important, I contend that it is a bigger love and faith that moves his stories. Ultimately his faith is that in the possibility of our society waking up and responding out of love to the anger/stories/ reality he reports on. Why else would he tell us these stories if he didn't believe we could be moved and change? This book is a marvelous story of young love (Tish & Fonny) and mature love (Tish's parents/family) and distorted love (Fonny's parents) caught in a world that is cruel and arbitrary. It is the story of families holding together and falling apart as they cope and struggle with false accusations that tear their lives apart. It is about ways people: contend with / find resolve in the face of / are crushed by / survive and can be destroyed by / racism --as individuals; as families; as a society.Read more ›
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